Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of
The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!
Bobcats and Wild Hogs
* * *
by J. David Thayer
The Odyssey of a young trapper who must stand between his family and encroaching evil.
But evil can take on many forms and not all are unfamiliar.
For Sapphires and Gold
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by G. D. McFetridge
The two aold men were partners, prospectors searching for a big strike. This time out,
they had been told, their luck was sure to change. And it did. Boy, did it ever!
Texas Jack and the Fatal Hand
by Michael Gygi
He enjoyed his whiskey and an occasional dance or two with Kat. Aside from that, he was a loner.
There had been the occasional altercation in the bar which always ended with the sound of two
shots, a dead stranger on the floor, and a smoking gun in the hand of Jack Rose.
* * *
* * *
by Jack Clevenger
New Mexico's Jornada de Los Muertos is a lonely, hot, long stretch of desert. It is also Apache
country. With Apaches coming up behind him, Ben Johnson will rely on every skill he possesses—and his big horse, Gabe.
Mitchell and the Death of a Shotgunner
* * *
by Dick Derham
The stage had been robbed and the shotgun guard killed. Wells Fargo was on the hook for
the value of the bullion. But was the guard killed so the stage could be robbed, or was
the stage robbed so the guard could be killed?
The Man of Boot Hill
* * *
by Chino Nunez
When a notorious gang leader by the name Magruder tries to strong-arm the right town at the wrong
time, Charlie Casket has no choice but to step in, despite being outnumbered and underestimated. An
old-fashioned duel will solve the issue, but for who?
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All the Tales
Bobcats and Wild Hogs
by J. David Thayer
Snow began fallin that afternoon. The sort a storm that pounds for hours. By morning the ground would be hidden under eight inches a new snow. Pa'd come home just before dark but he never took off his coat.
I could hear him and Mama fighting in the bedroom. Weren't nothing new. Usually when they'd start in I'd head out ta the shed and go back ta working hides. Tanning's hard work but it keeps ya focused on what you's doin. I's pretty good at it. But I didn't do that this time. I stayed an listened. They's somethin different in they voices I'd never heard before. Caught my attention. They's desperate, but not like cause we was hungry or couldn't pay the note. I know what that sounds like. This was somethin different. It bothered me and it should have. I caught some of what they's sayin through the walls.
"Stephen! Ya can't shoot em all, damn it! They'll kill you an then they'll find us! An ya know what they'll do to us! To our children!"
"That's why I have to go, Jean. Comes to us either way. Ain't no other shelter for a thousand acres in ever direction. They know their way about these woods an they'll find us. This way I catch 'em unawares. I got plenty a shells. I can do it. It's our only chance anyway."
"They's a dozen of em if they's two! How many shots ya think you c'n get off fore they kill you?"
"I'm doing this and there's an end to it!"
The door opened.
"Jeremiah! You been listening to things ya ain't supposed to, boy?"
"I reckon." Why fear a whoopin now?
"Snot-nosed bastard! Always was a mama's boy. Fact is I don't know as you has any a me in ya at all. But we ain't got time ta sort that out. Right now ya need to know some things. Listen ta me. The Morley Gang's back. They's down by the creek right now. Spotted 'em when I made my last pick right before I come in. That blizzard comin is serious. They'll need outta the snow come mornin an that'll drive 'em straight here. Member when they come through Springfield last summer, don't cha?"
I did. A course I did. We all knew what they done. Farmers an ranchers hanged an butchered an all their stores pillaged. Barns set afire an nothin left alive on the place but those flames ablazin away, licking on the bones of another ruined homestead. You'd see the smoke off in the distance an follow it an always find the same thing but too late ta help. An if ya coulda gotten there, you'd be just as dead right along with 'em. We knowed all a them families and a couple of they kids was good friends a mine.
"Then you know why I have ta go down there an kill 'em all."
That was a crazy idea, but I did understand. What the hell else could he do? Just one a them things can't be helped. Seem like sometimes the only thing they is ta do is head straight off inta hell, bent on doin somethin ya already knowed ya can't. Ya gonna lose an ya gonna go anyway. It's bad luck, I guess, but that don't change the facts.
"Ya have ta protect ya mama an Little Anna. An I need ya ta tend them traps we set on the west ridge too. Good chance we snagged a cat up that way. Seen some tracks two mornings back. That snow'll ruin the pelt fore it thaws. Can't wait. Now we done good this winter. They's money enough to make it well inta spring. Hear me, boy?"
That was the last thing he ever said ta me. I was just as scared as Mama but I knowed more words wouldn't change nothin. Words. My grandad always said: ya can cook bacon, but ya can't cook a promise. Finally made some sense. Pa picked up his thirty aught six an three boxes a shells an he headed out into the cold an the dark. Little Anna began to sob. I lied to her an promised everything would be alright.
* * *
Leghold traps don't care who ya are or what y'are. Step on one an it bites ya. Squirrels an rabbits found 'em often enough an theys good eatin. But bobcat is the real prize. Fifty good rabbits can't match one decent bobcat. A good pelt'd fetch twenty dollars in cash an twice that in trade. But sometimes the traps also caught wild hogs. They's dangerous an useless besides. We never et 'em. No one ever et 'em I ever heard about.
When I's young I asked Pa why we weren't gonna eat a hog we just shot when I knowed we hungry an broke an he said it was on account a hogs is dirty an evil. Said they has a piece a the devil inside 'em an if you et one you'd be the same way. Worse off than starvin. Nobody on the mountain eats them hogs. Don't matter how lean the crops come in. If they sprung a trap, ya always found em alive an snarlin an eager ta rip ya asunder. I looked a few in the eyes a time or two an I seen what Pa was talkin about. Feral but more'n that. Legion's livestock. The other animals know it same as Pa. If ya found one in a trap ya shot it from a ways off an then drug it off somewheres an not even the coyotes or buzzards would get after it. Carcass would just lay right there where you left it, stinkin an rottin an still whole until all the flesh withered up an the bones bleached in the sun. Look like a new dinosaur after about two months or so. An still you steered clear of it.
Pa was a superstitious man. Winter told him everthin he needed ta know about the year ahead. If the traps caught hogs, he knowed we was in for hard times. Started puttin back extra grain an stashin coins in coffee cans and whatnot. But if we happened to bag a bobcat, Pa'd feel real good about things. He'd get a little spendy an each a us'd get a few extras here an there. It really didn't make no sense ta me, but somehow things did normally seem ta line up about like Pa said they would. If you was of a mind ta look at it that a way. I always thought it said more about Pa than it did anything else, but it pro'ly never said nothin about anything either way. But I drank my root beer when he'd buy me some just the same.
* * *
Morning came an I did what I's told. Like I tried ta do ever day. I headed off in the general direction of the west ridge, but findin the traps amongst the drifts was not gonna be easy. The sun was bright on the snow an it was hard ta see. I squinted hard against it. When I shut out as much light as I could an quit tryin ta see anything at all, I smelled it for the first time. A faint whiff a smoke on the wind an some other stench I couldn't quite place. Death an heat an old somehow. I forced open my eyes an I looked around the ridge with my hands cupped over my forehead. I seen a campfire in a clearing some five-hundred yards away. Men were there. Pa was there.
Couldn't make sense a none of it. I knowed Pa's coat even at that distance. The creek where they's supposed ta be was three miles off t'other way. They shoulda not been there at all. As for what Pa was doin' in they camp was somethin' else altogether. I figured he needed savin an I was readyin m'self ta try. Maybe he'd got off a few shots an then they took him. That had ta be it. That or somethin like it. But Pa shore didn't look it. He just set there same as the rest of 'em.
I crouched as low as I could manage an made for the treeline. They didn't make me. Trappers know how ta move quietly in the woods. I had enough cover ta sneak up on 'em near as fifty yards or so. I set there watchin the Morley Gang an my Pa an what theys doin and I couldn't half believe none of it. Theys right there in front a me, but it weren't even real. None of it. If not for the cold up ta ma knees I'd a thought I's home abed an dreamin. But I wasn't. It was real alright.
Two facts was as clear as sun comin up and I had ta catch up ta both of em real quick. Either one of 'em woulda been more'n enough for one day. The first un was Pa never went out inta them woods ta kill nobody in the Morley Gang. Oh, no. He was in the gang hisself. No doubt about that. Truth is, they looked like they's followin his lead if anything. The second fact mighta been even worse. They's all settin around that fire eatin, an over that fire they had a wild hog turnin on they spit. An they was lickin they fingers an gobblin at the bones like watermelon rind in late summer. An they couldn't seem ta get enough of it. Like hog grease was gold an eating gold was the best thing a man could ever do. I seen a lot a hunger in my day an they beat everthing. Pa most of all.
Suddenly Pa looks over in my direction. I ducked down under a boulder real quick an then I peaked up over it again. He was still lookin my way. I sorta eased up an sat up straight an tried ta work out whether he's really looking at me or just at somethin else in the woods. Then I swear he nodded at me. Not sos anybody else in the camp'd notice. Just a little. An then he nodded with his head ta point me back down the trail the way I come in. Sendin me back home. Was this always the plan?
I left out quiet as I could. But when I felt I's far enough away, I ran as hard as I could, in the knee-deep snow, carvin' out post holes with ever step. I's crying while I's running an I never knowed a person could do that. At first I's confused an then I wasn't confused no more. I's absolutely sure. An bein sure was way worse'n not understanding an still feeling good about keepin some doubt. Old mysteries about my pa began ta solve themselves in my mind. Pa was gone sometimes an no one ever knowed where. Sometimes clothes were bloodied when he come home from trappin an they's burned rather'n washed. Hard as we had ta work ta get clothes at all made ya notice things like that. An more'n all a that, an because a all that, I knowed one thing more: he was leadin his gang away from us, but Pa was sayin goodbye in doin it. He wanted me ta find em settin there sos I'd know it an could tell it without anybody arguin about it.
* * *
I got back ta the cabin outta all the breath I'd normally collect an spend in a week's time, an I told Mama the truth Pa wanted her ta know. Said I'd seen the Morley Gang shoot Pa an drag his body off somewheres down the mountain. We'd never find it an there weren't no point in lookin for it. I held her as she sobbed an I told her everything'd be alright an I believed that. But Mama use ta hep him burn all them clothes an she never wanted ta talk about why he went missing ever so often. So who knows what she knowed an didn't know this whole time. Me least of all. I'll just let that simmer.
After Ma got out a good cry she went into Little Anna's room an told her Pa weren't coming back. That was more'n I wanted to see an I'd seen plenty that mornin. I slipped outside an finished checking the traps up along t'other side of our land. As far away from the west ridge as I could get without trespassin. Some traps was disturbed too. Good signs.
We stayed pretty steady from that day after. Enough rabbits an squirrels ta get us by alright, along with Pa's money tucked away. I knowed about his coffee cans an I think he wanted me to. Made it to spring, anyway, an then we was in the clear. Even though nothing really changes, everything always feels easier once spring gets here.
Never saw a bobcat that whole winter. Still ain't seen one. Not even tracks. But they'll be back one day, I expect. They ain't really left, truth told. Seen some hogs though, crossin the west ridge. They say they's more these days than they usta be. Invasive. Long shadows at dusk. Squeals in the dark. Fields all tore up come mornin. They stop to rest a spell an ya feel it all up ya neck. But it don't last. Wait it out, I learnt. Breathe an stay quiet. Wait and watch. Soon enough they'll head off somewheres else.
J. David Thayer is an educator living in Texas. His works have appeared in 24-Hour Short Story Contest (2nd Place), The First Line, The Last Line, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Film Festival, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bewildering Stories, 101 Word Stories, Tall Tale TV, Black Petals, Farther Stars Than These, Terror House Magazine, 50-Word Stories, The Drabble, 365 Tomorrows, 42 Stories Anthology, Scarlet Leaf Review, Sirens Call eZine, Teleport Magazine, Sci-Fi Lampoon, The Free Bundle, Piker Press, and Pilcrow & Dagger.
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